Friday, August 24, 2018

A Comprehensive Guide to Secret Doors

People will draw an 'S' on their dungeon map many times before they start thinking about what makes a good secret door.

Secret doors are an absolute cornerstone of D&D, and yet they don't get as much attention as other common dungeon elements.  I guess they're a little boring (compared to traps and magic swords).

Here's the thing: secret doors are an excellent opportunity for OSR-style gameplay.  A secret door is a common dungeoneering problem that is usually solved through observation and intuitive solutions (as opposed to system mastery, or having silver weapons).

Sidenote: Courtney has written a couple of good posts but I wanted to write my own.  

Tip #1 - If it's essential, don't put it behind a secret door.

Sort of general disclaimer: if finishing a dungeon requires the PCs to go past a door, don't make it a secret door.  The reward behind a secret door should be optional.  This avoids frustration and allows secret doors to perform their primary function: rewarding players for skillful dungeoneering.

(The secondary function of a secret door is to be cool as fuck; don't underestimate the impact when the wall of the cramped cellar swings away to reveal a forest of glowing fungi.)

by Peter Mullen
Obvious Door, Hidden Lever

These is my preferred archetype.  There's three parts to this.

The Door: A sealed door makes the PCs suspect a trigger is nearby.
The Trigger: They search the room to find the trigger.  
The Reward: They are rewarded for opening the door.

The Door is obvious.  It might be a huge metal door with no way to open it except to discover the mechanism.  It could be a stout wooden trap door that can be smashed (at the cost of noise and time).  It might be a wall of flame that they can jump through at the cost of damaging themselves.

An obvious door allows the players to focus their search here.  Instead of searching every nook and cranny of the whole dungeon, obvious cues like this allow the players to focus their time and attention on key places.  

The Trigger is hidden.  This is the part that tests the players.  They can deduce the trigger from clues, figure out comprehensive ways to search the room, or discover some way to interact with it.  This is the fun part, because this is the challenge.  In the dungeon, this is where the gameplay is.  (One of many.)

Remember that the trigger doesn't have to be super-hidden.  Simple triggers can hide modest rewards.  That's also fun.

The Reward can be:
  • Loot.
  • A shortcut to deeper levels.
  • An ambush opportunity.
  • A place to spy on the orcs.
  • A way to slip inside the statue so you can shout at the cultists and impersonate their god.
Hidden Door, Hidden Lever

I don't like these as much.  

To be sure, they have both precedent and placement reasons, but they're easier to miss since the players are more likely to walk past them.  

True, you can train you players that you have lots of hidden doors in your dungeons, but then you are also training them to spend their time fully investigating every room in the dungeon.  I'd rather train my players to investigate the things that seem interesting (since they often are more interesting).  We can cover more dungeon that way, and I spend less time saying "you don't find anything".

Hidden Door, Obvious Lever

I guess these exist?  You pull a lever, hear a grinding sound, and then you have to backtrack to find where the door opened.

These are only fun if you have a good wandering monster table, you want to show players have rooms have changed since they were last visited, or time is one of the fun challenges in this dungeon (e.g. the dungeon is literally sinking in the ocean, do we really have time to backtrack).


Semi-hidden Doors

There is an opportunity here to make it a two-step process, with doors that are semi-hidden and then triggers that are more hidden.  It's also a gradient--you can have a semi-hidden door with a semi-hidden trigger.

Heck, you can even have a semi-hidden door with no trigger (i.e. push to open).  These are also good.

Semi-hidden doors are defined as ones where the DM uses cues (breadcrumbs) to lead the PCs to discovery of the hidden door, or at least to get them to suspect its existence (so they'll know to search the room).  

Cues for a Semi-Hidden Door (roll a d10 or a d12)
  1. Scuff marks or footprints.
  2. Hollow sounds as you walk across it.
  3. Old stains, or fresh blood dripping through the seams.
  4. Breezes.
  5. Sounds.
  6. Smells.
  7. Temperature changes.
  8. Anomalous architecture (e.g. discolored stone, sagging walls).
  9. A dead end in a hallway (especially if the hallway seems well-traveled).
  10. Obviously passable surfaces: waterfalls, curtains.
  11. Seeing a creature flee into a seemingly dead-end room.
  12. Put a clue on a map.
Using Maps to Indicate Secret Doors

Remember, the whole point of having obvious doors is so players know to concentrate their attention in a specific area.  The clue doesn't have to come from the room itself.  It can come from the mouth of an NPC

Sometimes the clue comes from the map.  OSR dungeoneering is full of shit like this, which is why you'll see so many people making these meticulous maps (as opposed to a quick diagram of which rooms connected by lines).  Examples:
  • Symmetry implies a room. (e.g. the lower floor seems to share a floorplan, yet this room lacks a counterpart on this floor.)
  • The shape of the adjacent rooms (and exterior wall?) imply that a room should be here.
  • Necessity: if you know the tower has 5 floors, then you know there must be a way up from the fourth floor.
Triggers (d20)

Remember that a trigger might just unlock a door, not necessarily open it automatically.  The trigger might also need to be held (if you want to be a dick).

A lot of these options aren't necessarily exclusive.  You could combine some of them into better triggers.

Obscured By Object

1. Recessed lever behind painting.
2. Switch beneath rug or behind tapestry.

Challenging Environment

Some of these can get into puzzle territory.  Good.

3. Hidden underneath really heavy statue.
3.1 A pressure plate is only depressed when a really heavy statue is placed on it.  The statue may be in a different room.
4. Trigger located beneath the surface of the boiling mud.

Integrated into Object

5. The door unlocks when the statue is rotated to point at the door.
6. The trigger is in the hinges of a different door.  When the first door is fully closed, the secret door unlocks.
7. Pull the torch sconce, ya turkey.


8. The offering bowl is full of ancient blood stains.  Fill the bowl with blood.
9. The mural shows dancers at a festival.  Imitate their dance.
10. The plinth reads "ten men's length, ten men's strength.  Ten men can't break it, a child can carry it."  Place a rope on the plint.

Simultaneous Triggers

11. Both discolored bricks must be pushed simultaneously for the door to open.


This covers situations where there are multiple things to try, and the players just have to guess which one is the correct one until they figure it out.  And because there has to be a cost for wrong answers, pulling the wrong lever usually results in a trap being set off.

Sometimes there's a pattern or a clue that allows intelligent players to deduce which lever is the correct one.  In this case, pulling all the levers is just the (costly) brute-force solution.

If there's no clues to which is the correct lever, then the puzzle becomes: how do we protect ourselves from whatever trap is going to trigger when we pull the wrong lever?  (Hint: use a 10' pole.)

This is actually getting away from strict secret doors and into the trap/puzzle spectrum.

12. Three levers.  The first causes acid to fall from an (obviously discolored) crack in the ceiling.  The second is electrified.  And the third opens the door.


One of the common types of Zelda puzzles.

13. The room contains a lit torch and an unlit torch.  The door unlocks when both torches are lit.
14. The room contains a dozen levers, arranged at different heights.  The door unlocks when all of the levers are set to the 'up' position.

Brute Force

This covers kinds of switches where the biggest limit is how much time the PCs are willing to use.  At worst, this can be pixel bitching.  At best, this is a resource-management choice.

DM: It'll take you 90 in-game minutes to attempt all the combinations.  Do you still want to do it?
Player: Yeah, sure.  Go ahead, roll your wandering monster checks.

And in this case, finding the trigger is only as fun as making the cost-benefit analysis of cost vs. reward.  

Like the trial-and-error triggers, this can be an acceptable brute force solution for puzzles where the players didn't find the clue.

Example. The door will not open unless the correct demon's name is spoken.  The walls are covered with the names of thousands of demons, including the correct one.

Anomalous Architecture

These are basically solved by noticing that something is out-of-place and then interacting with it.  If a player says "I inspect the X closely; tell me more about it" they're 90% of the way there.

15. One of the bricks is a different color than the others.  Push it.
16. A small hole in the wall is revealed to be very deep.  The trigger is 5' deep in the hole, and must be activated with a pole or spear shaft.
17. Investigation reveals that the chandelier chain goes into the ceiling.  Pull the chandelier.
18. Outside the castle window, a small bullseye can be seen on one of the exterior bricks.  Hit it with an arrow.


19. One of the bricks is a different color than the others.  Push it three times in a row.

False Backs / Nested

20. The first secret door reveals a small chamber full of garbage.  If the garbage is cleared away, one of the bricks can be seen to jut from the wall.  Pushing this brick opens the second, actual secret door.
21. The cabinet has a false back.  The false back can only be opened when the cabinet is closed.


There's also cases where a party might realize late in a dungeon, based on some new evidence, that they might have missed a secret area early in the dungeon.

For example, they might see multiple blue tiles throughout the dungeon.  Later one, they see where a blue tile has been smashed and an empty cavity revealed.  Now they can go back, smash all the blue tiles they saw earlier, and grab the small treasures inside.

(I'm not really sure how to code this one, and since it relies on dungeon design, it doesn't really belong on a "d20 secret doors" generator.

by Peter Mullen
Bad Secret Doors

Just Checks

Roll a Perception Check.  Roll a Search Check.  Roll a Disable Devices Check.

If this is all you are doing, then you are only challenging the character sheet, not the player.  This is boring.

Pixel Bitching

Basically, when the player spends a lot of time doing a boring task to track down some trigger, with no clues to lead you to it.

Here's a bunch of identical tiles.  Roll for each one.

Here's a room full of boring things to investigate.  Spend time describing to me how you're going to investigate each one.

At best, this is a Brute Force trigger (see above).  

Tip #2 - When you expect players to be searching a room carefully, choose carefully how many interesting features you want to put in that room.

I try to limit myself to no more than 2 or 3 significant things in each room.  

Sometimes a room has lots of objects in it by requirement, e.g. a kitchen.  Be careful hiding triggers in kitchens.  The players will remove every drawer and break the sink before they notice the switch at the back of the oven.

Searching  dense room isn't necessarily bad--and it may even be fun if the kitchen is interesting--but it does take time.  Just be mindful of it.

Compare that to a room that is empty except for two discolored bricks and an obvious secret door.  The players will come in, and one of two things will happen.

(a) They'll figure out that they need to push both bricks simultaneously.
(b) They won't figure it out, and they'll move on to the next room.

Either way, it probably won't take as long as the kitchen scenario.  And if they think of the solution later in the dungeon, they can always come back.

Final Note

Spend a moment to think about what is behind the secret door.  A party is usually pretty invested in finding the trigger for a secret door (it's an activity anyone can participate in), so when the door finally swings open, you'll probably have their attention.

Lastly, the reward doesn't have to be treasure.  It can be something bad, like a bunch of zombies.  Zombies are their own reward.

If you still want some more secret door stuff, here's a couple more other sites.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Some Traps

Chris wrote up a list of some traps that don't suck.  I'm going to write some more, since that seems like a good thing to make a list of.

What makes a good trap?  

It should follow good OSR principles (similar to the obstacles post I wrote way back).

  • No obvious solution.
  • Multiple possible solutions.
  • Solution depends on common sense (rather than system mastery).
  • No specific tool required (no McGuffin, no singular spell, etc).
What is a trap?

A trap can be obvious, such as an open pit.  With obvious traps, the puzzle becomes how to best get across the trap.  Traps don't have to be difficult.  Easy traps can be fun, too.  AND easy traps can become weapons that you later use against monsters in the dungeon.

Obvious traps are probably the hardest to write, and the most fun.  They kind of blur the line between obstacle, puzzle, and trap.  An obvious trap needs to have (a) a reason to engage, (b) a visible mechanism, and optionally (c) an explicit risk.

A trap can be surprising, like a subtle pressure plate.  With subtle traps (where the PC is likely to stumble into it) make sure that you give the player a chance to react before the trap goes off.  We want to give the players interesting choices to make, not just tax their HP.

A boulder rolling towards you is good.  You still have options.  Compared to. . .

A subtle pit trap in a random location sucks.  It sucks because the "solution" to them is to spend your time tapping on the floor with a pole, or pouring out water and seeing if it seeps between the stones.  (I know there is a whole branch of old-school play that enjoys this style of play, but it's never appealed to me, since I believe that there are more interesting ways to challenge players.)

Where should subtle traps be hidden?

Please don't hide them willy-nilly.  Putting a pit trap in the middle of a well-traveled corridor threatens verisimilitude (since aren't orc patrols passing over it every thirty minutes?)

Place traps in logical places.  A kitchen cabinet is probably not going to be trapped, but the chest in the shaman's room probably is.  

If you are going to hide damaging traps, try to build up to them.  Telegraph the possibility before the traps appear.  Before you have complicated double pit traps and slides, it's good to have a room with a small pit trap (to inform players that hidden pit traps exist here).  Or better yet, a room with a broken (exposed) pit trap.

You don't have to telegraph the danger, just the mechanism.  

For example: a lever might open a hole in the ceiling, dumping spiders down onto whoever is below.  A smart party will pull the lever with a rope lasso from 20' away.

This is a good trap.  A player who dies from spider bites will (hopefully) sigh and say "I guess I deserved that.".  

That's what you want from a trap.

Some Traps

Not all of these are technically traps.  Some are just interesting dungeon features.

Horrible Hallways
  1. Wall of fire.
  2. Zone of unconsciousness.
  3. Climb a diagonal shaft, rotating.
  4. Crush hallway.  Find a way to survive the crush, or at least move really, really quickly.
  5. Portcullis that slams shut to split the party.  You can reunite 1-2 rooms away (don't split the party for too long).
  6. Obvious pit trap.  The correct path is hidden at the bottom of the pit.
  7. Insanely hot hallway (or room where you have to perform some activity).  Anyone trying to sprint through it unprotected is probably going to burn their feet and die.  Things that reduce damage: being soaking wet, air circulation, walking/standing on soggy leather.
  8. Subtle pressure plate.  The trap triggers when weight is taken off the plate.
  9. As above, except there are several pressure plates in a row.
  10. Goblin barricade staffed by several bow-wielding goblins.
Wretched Rooms
  1. Obvious trigger: taking the sword off the pedestal.  Two copper spears shoot out of the wall, impaling an incautious explorer.  A round later, lightning begins to arc between the spears.  A round later, the room begins to fill with water.
  2. Poisonous gas seeps from a crack in the wall.
  3. Lake of acid.  Get to the island.
  4. A dripping wet door.  Opening it floods the room with ancient, rancid water and 3 zombie sharks.
  5. Lock that can only be opened at a certain minute each day.  Adjacent, a lock that can only be opened at a certain minute each week.  Adjacent, a lock that can only be opened at a certain minute each year.
  6. Archway.  Anyone who passes through it is transposed with a ghoul in a nearby room.
  7. Climb a frictionless wall.  (Have fun collecting large furniture.  Shitty tables are treasure now.)
  8. The floor of this room is laminated with symbols of disintegration.  If a symbol is touched, all non-stone material in the room will take 3d6 Con damage each turn.  In the room, an (unsupported) pedestal with a stone McGuffin on top.  In the ceiling: spiders and spiderwebs.
  9. Everything appears distorted in the mirror.  Humans appear to be orcs, swords appear to be hammers, etc.  The trick is to notice that the pen appears to be a key, and the mouse skull appears to be lock.  Inserting one into the other will cause the door to open.
  10. Huge wooden bowl, lined with thin, insoluble gold foil.  Filled with horrible, fuming acid.
Obnoxious obstacles
  1. The magic stein can only be carried by someone who is colossally, totally drunk.  They have to carry themselves--no one else can help them.
  2. Carry a baby out of the dungeon.  No, carry ten babies.
  3. When the lid of the sarcophagus is placed back on top, the bottom of the sarcophagus opens.
  4. Sign says "teleporter" but it's really just a big blender.
  5. The dragon is sleeping!  Steal things quietly.  (Common sense: it's quieter to carry a chest away than it is to open it, a sack of coins is guaranteed to clink, etc).
  6. As above, except some goblins just showed up.  They want to kill you quietly, but if the dragon wakes up, you're all probably going to die.
  7. Crossing an underwater lagoon.  Hope you brought a canoe.  Of course something attacks during the crossing.  A fast boat can escape it, a floating table is easily capsized.
  8. Functional teleport brings organic material to one place, and inorganic material to another.  Allow teleported people to communicate this (possibly by shouting, roll for random encounter) so they can make a more informed decision.  An incipient threat hastens plans.
  9. The door can only be opened in your dreams.  If you open it in your dreams, you can pass through it in real life.  While your body sleeps on the altar, it is inhabited by the spirit of an ancient wizard.
  10. Before you can run through them, you need to observe the swinging pendulums to determine their pattern.  Anyone observing the pendulums is hypnotized by them, staggers safely through them, and begins to self-mutilate by dancing in the middle of all of them (1d3 damage per turn).

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Jenkin

Witches possess a uterus, which was an organ invented by Flesh to ensnare souls, in order to steal ambition and intelligence for its unruly tissues.

Witches also tend to possess an acute knowledge of how to adapt this process to their needs.

And lastly, witches need good help.  While some of them operate in large covens (often familial or clan-based), many more witches live at the outskirts of their communities where they have been exiled.  These women learn at the feet of their familiar.  A knot of serpents, perhaps, or an eyeless crow.

But as for actual laborers?  They often must manufacture their own.

A jenkin is made by a witch.  She must be impregnated and then, three weeks before the child is due, a drop of the husband's blood fed to a fertile female rat.

The witch and the rat will give birth simultaneously.  The witch will birth a clotted thing of bone and hair.  It must never be named, nor given a consecrated burial, else the consumed spirit depart from the rat.  If such events come to pass, the whole attempt descends into ruination and the jenkin is undone.

After a few days of nursing at the witch's teat, one of the baby rats will begin to speak as newborn infants do.  This is the jenkin.

by Carlos Garcia Rivera
Jenkins grow large, as large as a cat (who flee at the scent of a jenkin).  They are quick and clever and cruel, and they love their mother very much.  Anything she tells them, they believe.

HDAC leather  Bite 1d6
Move as monkey Int 10  Mor 5

Escape -- Once per day, a jenkin automatically escapes something that they could feasibly escape.  Restraints, a grapple, an awkward social situation, etc. 

If that was the end of it, it wouldn't be so bad.  Just a large, talking rat.  But the loyalty is partially bought by "gifts", promised to them by the witch and then delivered.  And there is only one thing that a jenkin desires.

At first, the victims are all children, because the jenkin is still very small.  A body part is cleaved from each child and delivered to the jenkin.  The jenkin then wears the body part, which then becomes the jenkin's own.

Once a hand is stolen, the jenkin will have a hand that it can use to caress its mother's cheek. 

Once it is given a face, it can tenderly kiss the neck of its mother.

The children that these things are stolen from are usually kept alive, and retained in a cage.  Children have many uses, and witches know all of them.

Some jenkins maintain good relations with their less uplifted siblings.  Sometimes this manifests as an allied swarm of rats.  Sometimes it manifests as a steady dribble of gossip from the local metropolis.

Jenkins that have begun wearing human parts gain a new ability.

Puppeteer -- You control one of an opponent's body part for as long as you concentrate.  You must have the appropriate human body part.  Save negates.  Usable 1/min.

A jenkin with a human hand could make you drop your sword.  A jenkin with a human foot could make you trip into the fire.  A jenkin with a human mouth can make you speak damning words, and this is the greatest threat of all.  (However, such words will emerge with the jenkin's voice, and while it may try to imitate its victim's tone, most are not skilled impressionists.)

Eventually, a loyal jenkin may have its entire body replaced with human parts.  When completed, a jenkin looks exactly like you or me.  You may talk to a jenkin and never realize it.

There is only one part of jenkin that is never replaced.  Their heart remains the heart of a newborn rat, a small knot of black tissues, shuddering with a terrible energy, desperate to maintain the charade, to become human.

from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Fuck that scene, man.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Doom that Came to Dannerhall

I suppose I'm in the business of writing a dungeon today.  This post is just a collection of fragments.

I didn't start with a map or a plot or a villain.  I start with all the interesting ideas, the revelations that you hope will give your players pause, the spectacular moments that may or may not happen.  I collect a few of these and then I try to stitch them together.

This time I started with a list of body part monsters, and then invented a story to go along with them.  Here's the story first. . .

by Juan Valverde de Amusco's Anatomia del cuerpo humano (1560), who plagiarized most of them from Andreas' Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica.
The Story

Dannerhall was a lonely town, isolated by snow and crag, a rustic cousin on the wrong side of the Nothic Mountains.  It was known for blackberry wines and a famous musician, who had long since mouldered.  Their nearest trading partner is Havenholt, a long journey away through an unfriendly forest.  They hunt the Poison People.  They war with the Red Caves.  

In the short days of winter a prophecy went winding through the streets, and it reached the ears of the king.  The prophecy told that the king of the Red Caves would topple Dannerhall and sit atop its throne.  The king, and his three sons, would all be dead before spring's full bloom.

Word reached the king, as it must.  So great was his fear, and so terrible his fury, that the sun dared not show its face that day.

The warriors were marshalled.  Wrapped in bearhides, they crossed the icy gaps and sky-bitten passes that led to the Red Caves.  Their mission was to kill the king of the Red Caves, and only return once he had been beheaded.

The small army reached the Red Caves without any losses, against all expectation.  No counterforce rallied to meet them in the murderous chokepoints.  Their terraced farms were found to be abandoned.  The stormed the gates and slew its few defenders with relative ease.  The city seemed to be largely abandoned.  A few people seemed to be residing in its halls, but they fled at the coming army.  Cave goats bleated in the streets, their udders stretched and unmilked.

More caves, more portcullises, more poisonous gases.  There seemed to only be a handful of defenders.  Had they caught them during a migration?  A religious holiday?

The invaders were initially amazed at their luck, which turned to boorish joviality, which finally gave way to a creeping sense of dread that only grew as they descended.

Standing outside the throne room, their ears pressed against the bronze doors, they heard gutteral voices.  A crowd that whispered and laughed.  Not a syllable was understandable.

When the door was flung open, their lanterns revealed an empty room and a mad king, wide-eyed and babbling, squatting beside the ashes of an offering pyre.  Silks and robes were piled around him like so much detritus.  Of the numerous voices, there was no sign.

The king of the Red Caves was decapitated.  His body was burned and the soldiers returned with his head.  

They brought with them rich treasures from the vaults, a line of newly-caught slaves, and the youngest and fairest princess of the Red Caves.  Her elder siblings had been cut down, attempting to defend the vaults.

In the castle of Dannerhall, a feast was thrown.  It was a great victory over an old enemy.  The treasures were added to Dannerhall's own and the slaves were distributed among the king's allies.  The orphaned princess was to be wed to the king, in a ceremony that would take place in a mere month.

The girl wept and pleaded at this isolation from her people, and so the king allowed her to keep a servant from the Red Caves.  The one she chose was an old man that she knew from earlier years.  The slave was made a eunuch, and allowed to attend to her.

A week later, a smaller army was sent back to the Red Caves along with some peasants who hoped that they might claim the land for their own.  Of them, nothing was ever heard from again.

The day of the wedding drew night, and the castle once again took a deep breath, readying itself for another great feast.  The candelabras were filled with fresh candles, a pair of hogs were fattened, and newly-woven tapestries were hung.  A thousand preparations and it was done--the wedding would occur tomorrow.

The survivors spoke of the noises that occurred at exactly midnight.  At first, the news was that the orphaned princess' eunuch had gone mad and cut off her head.  Or perhaps he had dismembered her entirely.  The eunuch had been killed.  No, the eunuch had escaped into the night.

Whatever the details, the pieces of the dismembered princess must have swelled and thickened with unnatural growth.  Perhaps they fell off the blood-stained bed where they still rested and plopped on the floor where they continued to grow, instructed and fattened by whatever unearthly power that also gave them animation.

Nearly everyone in the castle died.  The few that escaped spoke of gargantuan body parts and colossal organs, slithering down hallways and gallumphing into the courtyard.

That was two days ago.  The castle is dark, the drawbridge is still halfway raised, and the screams have stopped.  Everyone that has ventured inside thus far has failed to return.  The villagers are already speaking of departure.  All agree that the town is cursed, and no one wishes to stay another night. The mountains roads are treacherous at this time of year, but perhaps less treacherous than remaining.

The Monsters

They're in the dead castle.  The orphaned princess has been dismembered and every hateful part of her stalks the castle, empowered by fell magic.

The Slaves

Former citizens of the Red Caves.  They are pale and their speech is dense, turbulent.  The princess has so far not killed any of them.  They would leave the castle if they could, but outside the castle are mobs of people who would quickly kill them.

The princess--now the rightful king of the Red Caves--calls for them from the throne room.  Some avoid that horrible place.  Some enter, where they are made to swear fealty to the thing in the chair.  All of them have armed themselves and are likely to attack anyone else they find wandering the castle.

The Prince and His Knights

Probably holed up somewhere.  A tiny handful of trained killers, terrified and easily manipulated.

The Warlock Eunuch

He is almost certainly still alive.  Things have gotten a little out of hand, perhaps, but he is very adaptable and utterly determined.

At Least One Actual Demon

Who did you think was behind all this?

The Hands

Each hand is large enough to grab an adult human around the torso.

HDDef chain  Slap 1d8+grab
Fly dwarf  Int Mor 20

Abilities -- Whenever a PC attempts to harm one of the Hands with a hand-held object (or their bare hands), their hand cramps and prevents them.  (The Hands cannot be harmed by hands.)

The Feet

HDDef chain  Kick 1d8
Fly dwarf  IntMor 20

Abilities -- When the target has at least 30' of clear space above them, the Feet can turn their kick into a stomp, doubling the damage and causing all other creatures within 10' to take 1d4 damage (Dex for half). 

The Feet are initially encountered in the courtyard, where they can make use of their Stomp attack.  If they can be lured indoors, they become a lot less threatening.

The Torso

It is a hostage taker.  Without any hands, feet, head, or internal organs, it lumbers through the darkened halls atop bloody stumps, blindly and clumsily.  The queen of Dannerhall is trapped inside of the rib cage.  She will beg to be released, a pale hand poking out, grasping at nothing.  

When the Torso is damaged she will scream at them to stop--the Torso is crushing her alive.  And if the party continues to attack, it will.

HDDef leather  Slams 1d10/1d10+swallow
Move human  Int 10  Mor 10

Abilities -- The Torso can hold up to two people.  Swallowed characters are allowed a single Str check at a -8 to escape.  The Torso can damage any passenger as a free action, doing as much damage as it wishes.  It is capable of breaking a passenger's body as easily as a grown man can snap a kitten in half.

It is too large to move down any passage less than 10' wide, limiting it to the larger rooms and hallways.

DM's Note: I'm not really sure how the party is supposed to rescue the queen.  Perhaps the torso compulsively attempts to swallow its missing organs, so if the PCs present it with the corpses of say, the heart and the lungs, the Torso will swallow them and, lacking the capacity to retain her, eject the queen.  If I want to do this, I should put the Torso early in the castle so that avoidance becomes the smart option early on, and killing it becomes more viable later.

Alternatively, perhaps the ribs could be restrained with lassos?  Or perhaps a suit of armor given to the queen, to protect her from being crushed.

Honestly, I don't need to think of a way for the players to rescue the queen, because (a) I've already thought of some possibilities, and (b) it isn't essential for them to rescue the queen anyway.  Fuck it.

The Heart

Less of a monster, more of a trap.  It blocks a vital passage.

HDDef none  Atk none
Move none  IntMor 20

Incite Rage -- Usable 1/turn.  Target must save or fly into a barbarian rage.  Like a barbarian rage, an affected target must attack a creature every turn.  Ending the rage early (before all opponents are slain) requires a successful Save.

Blood Calls to Blood -- Whenever the Heart takes damage, that damage is mirrored onto the person that struck it.  Indirect damage (starting a fire that then spreads to the Heart) does not trigger this.  Throwing a molotov directly onto the Heart does.

One passive ability and one active ability.  Looks like a pain in the ass to fight.  Good.  I'm done here.

The Lungs

Frothy sheets of pulpy membrane, pulsing through the air like a dying butterfly.  The trachea waves through the air like a searching head.  The wind blows over the cartilaginous lips like breath over the top of a beer bottle.

HDDef leather  Slam 1d6
Fly crow  IntMor 20

Envelope of Wind -- Arrow are at -4 to hit.  Once per turn as a free action, the Lungs can redirect an missed arrow attack at a target of its choosing.

Gust of Wind -- Usable 1/turn.  Strong enough to throw objects at people, or throw people off of the tops of battlements.

I guess I should put this guy up in the battlements, huh?

The Liver

The liver makes you drunk when you fight it.

HDDef leather  Slam 1d6/1d6
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Alcoholic Fumes -- Every creature within 50' gains 1 point of drunkeness every turn.  (Holding your breath doesn't work; it soaks through your skin.)

Immune to Poison

<sidebar>Drunkeness Rules: For every point of drunkeness you get, your critical miss range increases by 1. Decreases by 1 point every 2 hours.</sidebar>

Since everyone will quickly get very drunk fighting this thing, the strategy is to either kill it quickly, or defeat it using methods that don't rely on die rolls.  The debuff can stick around all day.

The Stomach

Okay, it's an ambulatory stomach that barfs a cone of acid.  Is that sufficient on its own?


The stomach is in the basement, vomiting up a huge cloud of acid gas that fills the whole level.  Once you kill it, the cloud dissipates and you can explore the basement safely.

There's no trick to it.  You just hear the thing vomiting somewhere in the darkness and you charge in there and kill it while your skin begins to melt.

Alternatively, throw molotovs at it until it comes charging up the stairs, acid nozzle all a-whirl.

HDDef leather  Tackle 1d10+trip
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Barf -- 20' cone, 1d6 acid damage.

Acid Cloud -- Constantly emits a cloud of acid.  Will eventually fill the room, and all adjacent rooms, with an acid fog that does 1 damage for every round of exposure.  Fog will not go up stairs.  If the Stomach is killed or removed, the acid cloud will dissipate within 10 minutes.

<sidebar>Acid Rules: Acid damage repeats on all subsequent rounds, dealing the same damage -1 point for every turn its elapsed.  This lasts until no more damage is possible, or until a PC is washed off with water.  This depletes the waterskin.

For example, a PC hit by 1d6 acid damage takes 1d6-1 acid damage at the end of their next turn, and 1d6-2 acid damage at the end of the turn after that.</sidebar>

The Intestines

Two horrible snake-things.  They hunt together, trying to split the party.  One tries to pull a PC up into the rafters, another tries to drag a different PC into the next room.

HDDef leather  Bite 1d6+grab
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Serpentine -- 20' reach.  Can grapple up to 3 opponents simultaneously.

The one with more HP is the large intestine, obviously.

Don't need to load this one down with mechanics.  The encounter is interesting enough, with a giant snake thing trying to pull a PC up into the ceiling.

The Pancreas

It blocks another key point in the dungeon.  It's more of an obstacle, less of a monster.  It has a powerful regenerative ability, and can scream for help, but it has no other abilities.

HDDef none  Flail 1d6
MoveIntMor 20

Regenerate -- 10 HP per round!

Cry for Help -- Roll on the wandering monster table at the end of every turn in which the poor Pancreas takes damage.

The Gallbladder

Another obstacle monster.  It occupies a key intersection in the dungeon.  It serves as an artillery piece, raining gallstones and digestive bile down on anyone who approaches it.  The best way to get past it is to approach it from two directions, since it cannot fire down both hallways simultaneously.

HDDef leather  Shoot gallstones
MoveIntMor 20

Shoot Gallstones -- 1d10 damage and the target must succeed on a Difficult Str check or be knocked backwards 10' and fall prone.  The Gallbladder is smart enough to ready an action to shoot whoever approaches it.

(This makes it difficult to approach the Gallbladder.  It takes two successful turns of charging at it to reach it.)

Meh.  I might cut this one.

The Eyes

HDDef none  Slam 1d6
Fly dwarf  Int 10  Mor 5

Permanently Invisible -- It makes a squelching noise when it casts spells, though.

Spellcasting -- illusion and telekinesis.  As a level 3 wizard (3 magic dice).

They should probably be accompanied by a 1d3 escaped slaves.

The Mouth

HD 4  Def chain  Bite 1d6+swallow
Fly horse  IntMor 5

Teleport Trap -- Anyone swallowed by the Mouth is teleported to the room with the Gullet.

Runs around, teleporting PCs into terrible place.  Low morale, so it probably flies out a window as soon as things get hairy.  Fun.

The Gullet

Same stats as one of the Intestines.

It lives inside a locked room.  

When you kill it, dozens of bloody corpses will come slipping out, like a waterslide.

The Head

No eyes or jaw.  Huge, crumpled, wet.  Possibly atop the throne.  Is it the princess or the princess' possessed remnant?

Probably another stationary monster.  Is it the dungeon boss?  Sure, okay.

I need to think about this one for a while.  I don't need to come up with the details tonight.  I think I'll write the rest of the dungeon and then come back to this one.

Perhaps it'll be the ol' switcheroo: the princess regrets her agreement with the warlock and now only wishes to die.  Perhaps the real threat in the room is the Brain, which hides inside the skull before it comes levitating out, glowing neon blue and firing off mind flayer effects.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

d20 More Magic Artifacts

I wrote 20 more artifacts.  (Here's the first batch.)  Some of them aren't really artifacts, but most of them are.  (Here's the first batch.)

21.  A black cube of basalt, floating 10' off the ground.  It is 5' across and hinged like a chest.  Anything placed inside it will be dehydrated (all liquids bursting from the seams of the cube as if from a juicer) and converted into an art object.  Rare objects and powerful creatures are converted into more elaborate (more valuable) art.  Most are easily transportable.

22. A mummified monkey's paw.  While you wear it, you will hear small footsteps trailing behind you.  No other evidence of a monkey will ever manifest.  If you leave a bowl of sour milk out overnight, the "monkey" will attempt to bring you a nearby object that you desire.  It has the same chance of success as a regular monkey of human intelligence would if you sent it out on a similar mission.  If the monkey would be successful, the item appears in your pockets in the morning.  It item doesn't actually move, it teleports along with the effect.  You must offer the monkey something every night.  If you fail to do so, you will take 3d6 damage as the monkey attempts to strangle you and the paw will never work for you again.

23. Tightly-wound scroll of Goxlagon (Ogremoch, basically), the primordial earth demon.  If dropped on the floor, it bursts open and the words spill out, covering the floor (up to 2500 sq. ft.) with thousands of copies of his name.  Anyone falling on the floor (even falling prone) takes an additional 2d6 fall damage as if they had fallen an additional 30 feet.  Actual fall damage is quadrupled.

24. Circlet of the Diplomat.  When you would be struck a mortal blow (dropped to 0 HP) by a sentient creature, time pauses while you two communicate telepathically for 2 hours.  After this time, the attacker (usually paused with their blade an inch from your neck) can follow through with the blow, or choose to do something else.

25. Telluric Dagger.  Reflects stars and nothing else.  When stabbed,  you take damage based on how far you are from where you were born.  Within a day's travel = 1d4 damage.  Less than a week away = 1d8 damage.  Less than a month away = 2d6.  Less than a year away = 2d8.  Longer than that = 3d6.

26.  Cones of Alternate Self.  Summons a version of you from another timeline.  The alternate version is fucked up in some one (gain a random disability).  You can control both characters, but the original will begin to painfully melt, taking 1d6 damage every turn.  ("What's wrong with this place?  What's wrong with your air?")  This is psychically traumatizing for you, and each time you use it, you must Save or gain the (imagined) disability of your dead clone.

27. Ring of the Fool.  When worn, your face becomes innocent and trustworthy (+4 to any roll that benefits from you being likable and trustworthy).  You die the first time you take damage.  You gain double XP.

28. Hand Mirror of Lies.  Whoever holds it controls what it shows.

by Cosmic Nuggets

29. The Hunting Sound.  There is a room in the Ziggurat of Khuum where you must never speak.  If you do, the Hunting Sound will hear your voice and begin to seek you.  Space is no obstacle.  You will hear it coming for you.  At first you will only hear it in the quiet of the night, but as it nears you will hear it more often, louder and closer.  It is a groaning and a creaking and a grinding and a certain murmur that sounds like muffled screaming coming from underground.  After 1d6+4 days, it will catch you, and it will pull you into its chambers through a fist-sized hold in the air.  It's a bit like a chicken breast being sucked through a keyhole.  The people of the Ziggurat use the Hunting Noise to assassinate their enemies, combined with exceptionally accurate parrots.

30 . Ambrosia.  A vial of glittering orange froth that confers the powers of godhood.  After 1 turn, you gain the power to cast firebolt at will.  After 2 turns, you gain the power of flight.  After 3 turns, you become locally omniscient (range 50').  After 4 turns you gain an extra 50 hit points.  After 5 turns, you become aware that this world and everyone on it is utterly trivial in the cosmic scale of things, and that every soul here is wasting their time for as long as they remain trapped in this banal soul-trap of life and 'death".  You spend the round stunned, telling your companions what you have learned.  Beginning on the 6th turn, you must make a Save every turn to resist the temptation to turn into a being of pure light and depart the universe forever.

31. Fossilized Angel Egg.  Blackened as smooth as oiled leather.  Hold it tightly to your chest and think bad thoughts about someone.  It appears in their stomach.  1d6 turns later, they spend a turn painfully regurgitating it (stunned for a turn).  On the surface of the egg is written a secret of theirs.

32.  The Enigma.  Defies description.  Attempts to learn more about it result rapidly results in madness.  All that is known is that it fits into a single inventory slot.  Best not to look at it too closely.

33. Ossuglop.  A thick wax that rapidly increases the weight of things (up to 100x).  No effect on organic material.  It is stored in a goat bladder bag.

34. The Sword of War.  On a hit, target must save or take an additional 3d6 damage.  If the target dies from this damage, the wielder must also save or take the same damage.  The sword is sheathed in a great and glorious red banner, which flies above the wielder's head in battle.

by Cosmic Nuggets

35. The Sword of Peace.  Deals an additional 3d6 damage.  Anyone who possesses it will desire nothing more than to seek solitude and quiet.  Anyone who interferes with this reasonable desire will be met with rapidly escalating violence.  The sword appears to be made of wood, impossibly sharpened to such a degree that the cutting edge is nearly translucent.

36. A set of three nearly translucent knives.  They pass through objects without leaving a trace.  When a knife is broken (they are as fragile as glass), every cut that it has made manifests as real.

37. The Sun's Eye.  An iron sphere that is perpetually red-hot.  When held in your bare hands, you can control the sun.  Position, brightness, proximity, etc.  When you gaze through it, you can see from the sun's perspective.  (This does not actually move the sun--it merely bends light in an ingenious way.)

(A similar frozen orb controls the moon.)

38. Space Grenade.  Resembles a bunch of needles jammed into a glass sphere, with a steel thread through the center that is pulled to activate the grenade.  When it detonates, all space within 20' is magnified 1000x.  If it explodes in a 20' diameter room, the room is now 20,000' feet across.  If it explodes in a 30' diameter room, the room is 20,010' feet across the center and 92' feet to the far side if you stay along the wall.  Visually, it resembles a strange lensing effect, and yet humans can safely comprehend the non-Euclidean space in front of them.  Objects are scattered by the expanded space, but surfaces are tessellated outwards to account for the new expanse of space.  (You don't get giant blades of grass, you get more grass.)

39. Ring of the Hallucination.  Resembles a reticulated band that continually crawls across your finger like a tiny treadmill.  When you wear it, you become a pseudo-hallucination.  The only real effect that this has is that you cease existing when no one is looking at you.  You can remove the ring normally, but only while you exist.  (Basically, you just vanish when you are alone, or when no one is paying attention to you.  When they return their attention to your location with the expectation of seeing you, you reappear.)

40. Wizard Egg.  When a wizard learns too much about spells, the knowledge infects and recombines inside his subconscious.  As his mind is eaten, newborn spells flee into the ether.  Occasionally, the runt of the litter gets tangled up in the wizard's physical matter and is too weak to escape.

Wizard eggs are laid by wizards who are in the late stages of wizard madness.  (This is not the strangest symptom.)  During the most exciting part of each session, the egg has a 2-in-6 chance of hatching.  (Basically, the DM says "this seems exciting, let's see if the egg hatches. It can happen 2x in a session if you really want it to.)  When an egg hatches, roll a d12 to see what it contains.
  1. A minor magic item.  Roll randomly.
  2. A major magic artifact.  Roll randomly.
  3. A baby monster.  Probably trainable.  Roll randomly.
  4. A swiftly growing adult monster.  Probably aggressive.  Roll randomly.
  5. A sudden turn of bad luck.  The magic sword breaks, the dungeon boss enters the room, etc.  
  6. A sudden turn of good luck.  The bad guys scatter, the dead PC wakes up, etc.
  7. A lump of gold shaped like the wizard.
  8. Cloudkill shaped like the wizard's face.
  9. Everyone loses 1000 XP.
  10. Everyone gains 1000 XP.
  11. A spellbook full of mutant spells, based on what the wizard had memorized.
  12. A living spell spirit.  It's basically a HD 1 pokemon.  It's friendly, and if the dead wizard was friends with one of the PCs, the spell spirit will inherit that affection.  They usually look like either a fishbird or a birdfish, with some of the dead wizard's features and personality quirks.  The spell spirit can cast one of the spells that the wizard knew, and its form is influenced by the inherited spell.  For example, a divination spirit might have enormous eyes and the wizard's mustache.  They each have 1 casting die.
by Cosmic Nuggets

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

d20 Magic Artifacts

1. The ichor of Ectalion.  An incredibly dense orange fluid in a copper vial.  It turns freshly-killed creatures into weapons.  Melee or ranged (50% chance each).  Ranged weapons are usually similar to organic harpoon guns unless you can think of a better one.  They deal the same damage as the living creature would have and only have 6 shots before they become useless forever.

2. A mirror that will makes you younger the longer you stare at it.  You lose XP, but mutations and mutilations will also be undone.  Make Saves to avoid forgetting major things.  Minor things are all forgotten.  About one year every hour spent staring.  You will always appear to be your true age in the mirror.  If the mirror is ever broken, all of its effects are undone.

3. A soft blue humanoid.  They are boneless and crawl, roll, slither across the ground.  They will mewl like newborn goats and seek to touch your face gently.  If allowed to do so, their faces will crumple with sadness and their bodies will writhe as they convert themselves into a replica of your most valued lost possession (including, possibly, a living creature).  The object is created from your memories of it.  They have some magic, but it cannot imitate everything.

4. The Arm of Lukashane, the famous swordswoman.  It is intact inside it's golden case, and the gold thread stitching has already been started.  The Arm will allow you to wield a sword as if you were a fifth-level fighter.  It will not perform any other task.  It will not perform if it is insulted.  It will only wield swords, and only one-handed.

5. Dancing bananas.  They bifurcate like a pair of legs.  When music is played, they dance.  When they are eaten, you dance.  After every minute, you may Save to resist dancing, if you wish.

6. Oil of Time Trap.  Can be applied to basically any noun to freeze it into place.  Small, non-living things can basically be frozen permanently.  For example, a rope can be turned into a pole, or a waterfall could be turned into something climbable.  Creatures and large objects have a 1d12 round duration.  Large creatures have a 1d6 round duration.

7. Orb of Vanderost.  Looks like a black Christmas ornament.  When shattered, creates a cloud of black dust.  Lasts 1d6+1 rounds.  All objects that remain in the cloud age 10 years for every round they remain in the cloud.

8. Music box ballerina.  Once wound, goes faster and faster until suddenly it stops (takes 1d6 rounds).  One random creature nearby explodes into a shower of gore (save negates).  If the creature makes its save, the effect instantly jumps to another adjacent creature.  Someone's gotta explode.

If at least 3 creatures make their save, the ballerina's enchantment breaks and she returns to full, living size.  She is Radiant Basheen, the world's most famous dancer, imprisoned by her father's wizard so that she would never fall in love with one of her suitors (who are now all long dead).

9. The Skull of Angorogon.  A black skull with no eyeholes or lower jaw.  All sunlight within 1000' becomes invisible.  All creatures within that range must save or be compelled to immediately consume any corpse they come across.  (You can still see during the day, you'll just need a torch.)

10. A small metal top.  When spun, a horrible grinding noise comes from deep underground.  Flight is impossible within 100'.  Living creatures believe that they are in an earthquake (and they fall over if they fail a Dex check), but there is no earthquake.

by Finnian MacManus

11. A hungry hole.  Capable of moving over solid stone.  The interior looks like a kaleidoscope of teeth and gullet, spiraling away into fractal depth.  Hungry and dangerous, but also semi-trainable.  Doglike.  Likes round objects, both to chase and to eat.

12. A black nail.  If hammered into someone's shadow, it immobilizes that shadow and that person.   If the shadow vanishes (either from too much or too little light), the creature is freed.

13. The Yawroo Doorway.  A mirror inside a doorway.  Anything that passes through it is reversed, like a mirror image.  (If you want to be a dick about it, mirror-reversed people will starve to death, as most proteins and sugars will have the wrong chirality to be digestible.)  Useful to make foods with no nutritional value.  Magic objects that are also chiral (such as a unicorn's horn) will have their effects reversed by the Doorway.

14. Iron spikes.  When hammered into the eyes of a corpse, it will reanimate and pursue its killer.  If it does not know its killer, it will just go after the next best thing.  It will be unable to communicate this or do any other task.  It will use weapons, though.  Lasts 10 minutes.

15. A murky tank.  When touched, a red glow suffuses the filth, and an disembodied brain is revealed inside, attached to an articulated set of limbs, with small hoses travelling from its brain stem up to the apex of the tank.  It has a pair of eyeballs.  The brain is a duplicate of whoever activated it.  It is capable of speech and has a sense of both sight and hearing.  It has no ability to move the tank or do anything besides talk, honestly.

It will probably be resentful of it's able-bodied copy.  ("Why do you get to be out there?  We're the same.")  Decent chance it quickly goes insane.  If not fed (about a liter of blood per day), it will fall inert, and may be reactivated anew by another person touching the tank.

16. Vorpal Curse Collar.  When worn, all slashing weapons that are used against you are treated as if they were vorpal.  If you are killed this way, the collar appears on your killer's neck.

17. The Targlass.  Must be eaten (this is difficult).  All damage that you take is reduced by 50%.  You cannot regain HP by any means.  This lasts for 1d6 days (exploding).

18. Diamond of Death.  As soon as you hold it, you learn the rules.  If you ever go a minute without holding the diamond, you will die.  The diamond will then turn into a ruby for the next day as it feeds on the soul it has just captured.  During this time it is safe to let go of the ruby, as the ruby has released its hold on all other victims  If the ruby is ever broken, a powerful demon will be released.

If you get trapped by the ruby, the best scheme it to get some poor goblin to hold it for a while, then take it away.

19. The False Guillotine.  It lacks a blade, and there is no place to attach one.  Nevertheless, if you put your head into the notch, there is the sound of a blade falling, the dull thunk of metal biting into wood, and a brief moment of unmitigated pain and horror.  Afterwards, nothing seems to be different, except for a vague sense of loss and the notion that the world seems somehow flatter than it was a minute ago.

Thereafter, you have no soul.  You are immune to all magic that affects your mind except for possession (which automatically succeeds on you).  You are immune to level drain (and similar forms of XP loss).  You lose all connection to the divine (you cannot cast cleric spells).  And lastly, all XP gain is reduced by 50%.

20. The Apparatus of Balanax.  A cross between a snail shell and a tuba.  A full 30 across, a maze of leather-coated bronze.  An oily tunnel that only narrows as it grows deeper.  At the very back is a voice that will answer any question, but only if you can tell it a significant secret that you alone know, and that is not recorded anywhere else in the world.  Once you speak the secret, it vanishes from your memory.

This post has a sequel and it is located here.